The ghosts of Halloween past | Column

by | October 31, 2019 5:00 pm

Last Updated: October 30, 2019 at 1:02 pm

Happy Halloween!

Raise your hand if your kid (or you) will wear a Tyrannosaurs Rex costume. I love them; I’d wear one to hand out candy, if we handed out candy, which we don’t.

We stopped years ago, even though our neighborhood gets hundreds of trick-or-treaters. We wistfully watch packs of kids trotting by — superheroes, gypsies, fairies, witches, cowboys, pirates, Winnie the Pooh and his pals. They don’t go door-to-door anymore because now everything is “trunk or treat.” Businesses and churches sponsor events and carnivals and the kids get huge hauls without ever ringing a doorbell. It’s free, safe and fun.

You know what’s not safe? Trick-or-treating the baby boomer way: Throngs of squealing kids hustling up and down streets, trailed by a couple of moms wishing they had martinis. We wore cheap plastic masks that impaired our vision and shouted “trick or treat!” at anything that moved.

It was loads of fun, really. Neighbors hung white sheet “ghosts” from trees and erected fake tombstones on front lawns. Some put speakers on the porch and played records with creepy sound effects.

Over the years, my siblings and I made the rounds dressed as a princess, cat, cowgirl, convict, hobo, construction worker, cheerleader, duck hunter (hip waders + plastic decoys), scrub nurse and tired housewife (bathrobe + hair curlers.)

We’d run up to any house that had a porch light on, and avoid those that were dark, the universal sign for “soap my windows.”

(For almost a decade, when I lived alone with two large dogs, I didn’t turn on the porch light. That’s because 180 pounds of fur and fang slamming into a cheap storm door will do two things: Pop the lock and send kids screaming into traffic, and shatter the glass. That was an expensive Halloween. After that, I left the light off and went to bed at 8 p.m.)

The great thing about Halloween, of course, is the haul. You know what I mean. THE HAUL. A lot has changed, but kids still cackle over their loot at the end of the night.

Supervised by someone’s parents — never the same ones who took us out — we’d empty our paper bags or plastic hollow pumpkins and divide the spoils: What to eat ASAP, what to keep for later, what to trade away.

Into the keep pile went Reese Cups, Whoppers, any fun-sized candy bar, Sugar Babies, caramels, Tootsie Pops and Junior Mints. I loved the five-cent, single-serving Reese Cups — not the foil-wrapped minis, the full-sized singletons they don’t sell any more.

My favorite, however, was candy corn. Some of you fainted reading that, but the combination of color, shape, texture and eye-watering sweetness made it the perfect storm of sugar-loading. Even today, eating a handful has me bouncing off the walls.

The keep-for-later pile might include Skittles, M&Ms, Milk Duds, Lemonheads, Starbursts and caramels. Good, but not in candy corn territory.

The trade pile — things you wouldn’t eat, ever: Licorice, red hots, gumdrops, candy necklaces, Jolly Ranchers and circus peanuts.

A really special treat was sweet, salty, homemade popcorn *****, usually offered by little old ladies. Those days are gone. If it’s not commercial, today’s parents throw it out.

BTW, the razor-blades-in-apples hoax has been around for 50 years. It’s hard to hide a razor blade in an apple; the big gash gives it away. But people swear it happened to their next-door neighbor’s cousin’s stepfather’s nephew.

For all the parents who will eat leftover Halloween candy until Easter, enjoy the costumes and the chaos.

Julie R. Smith, who once dressed up as Al Capone, can be reached at widdleswife@aol.com.


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